Jim Callis

Pitchers shine at Wrigley Field Under Armour Game

Pitchers shine at Wrigley Field Under Armour Game

CHICAGO -- Pitchers often dominate hitters in showcase situations, because they can cut loose with their best stuff and not worry about pacing themselves while working shorter stints. But that wasn't the case in the first six Under Armour All-America Games played at Wrigley Field, which averaged nearly 12 runs per contest.

A talented group of pitchers reasserted themselves Saturday evening in the first Under Armour Game played under Wrigley's lights.The American team edged the National squad, 2-1, with a two-run rally in the eighth inning. The eight American pitchers combined to strike out 15 while permitting just four hits in the last major event on the high school summer circuit.

Nevertheless, third basemen claimed the MVP trophies. L.T. Tolbert (IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla.) won the honors for the Americans after driving in the winning run, and Ryan Mountcastle (Hagerty High, Oviedo, Fla.) got the nod for the Nationals after opening the scoring with an RBI double in the fourth.

Tolbert went 2-for-2, singling off an 88-mph fastball from right-hander Bryan Hoening (Batesville, Ind., High) in his first at-bat in the seventh inning. In the eighth, after outfielder Demi Orimoloye (St. Matthew's High, Orleans, Ontario) tied the game with a one-out RBI single off righty Anthony Molina (Somerset Academy, Pembroke Pines, Fla.) and stole second base, Tolbert did a nifty job of staying back on a 72-mph changeup and lining a single to right field to score Orimoloye.

Tolbert has a nice left-handed swing and projects to add power once he fills out his 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame. A South Carolina recruit, he spent his first three prep seasons at Wren High (Piedmont, S.C.) before deciding to move to the IMG Academy for his senior season.

"It's nice getting accolades for myself, but I'm more excited about the team win and helping the team get that win," Tolbert said. "Winning is always the No. 1 goal. 

"We said in the dugout that we were only going to be able to play together one time, so let's try to get this win in one of the best baseball parks around. It doesn't get much better than this."

The Nationals went hitless until first baseman Josh Naylor (St. Joan of Arc Catholic Secondary School, Mississauga, Ontario) and Mountcastle hit consecutive two-out doubles in the fourth off left-hander Hunter Bowling (American Heritage High, Delray Beach, Fla.). Mountcastle's was an opposite-field liner down the first-base line off an 87-mph fastball. He could have gone 3-for-3, but center fielder Dazmon Cameron (Eagle's Landing Christian Academy, McDonough, Ga.) made a diving play on his sinking liner in the second and second baseman Alonzo Jones Jr. (Columbus, Ga., High) robbed him on a grounder up the middle in the seventh.

Committed to Central Florida, Mountcastle has a similar profile to Tolbert. Mountcastle is also 6-3 and 180 pounds, though he bats right-handed.

"Even competing with these guys on the same field in an honor," Mountcastle said. "To win the MVP is a blessing. On the double, it felt good to put the team ahead. I got a fastball away and I just tried to take it to right field and not do too much."

Though they didn't get any MVP recognition, several pitchers performed well, including the three best mound prospects in the 2015 high school class: right-handers Ashe Russell (Cathedral High, Indianapolis) and Mike Nikorak (Stroudsburg, Pa., High) and lefty Justin Hooper (De La Salle High, Concord, Calif.).

Nikorak started the game for the Americans and struck out the first two hitters he faced, center fielder Nick Plummer (Brother Rice High, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.) looking on a 79-mph curveball and left fielder Franklin Reyes (San Cristobal, D.R.) swinging on a 93-mph fastball. Russell followed him with a perfect second inning that included whiffs of Naylor looking at a 78-mph slider and shortstop Nicholas Shumpert (Highlands Ranch, Colo., High) on a 93-mph heater.

Hooper, the hardest-throwing pitcher in the 2015 prep class, posted the highest radar-gun reading at 95 mph. He pitched a perfect fifth inning for the Nationals that included a swinging strikeout of Jones on a 76-mph curveball.

Right-hander Luken Baker (Oak Ridge High, Conroe, Texas) pitched a scoreless third inning for the Americans, throwing 13 of 18 pitches for strikes and fanning catcher Wyatt Cross (Legacy High, Broomfield, Colo.) and Plummer on 93- and 91-mph fastballs. Baker also sparked the winning rally by hitting a first-pitch curveball for a pinch single in the eighth, but he'll be best remembered for what he did before the game.

Baker won the home run derby, beating Starling Heredia (Santo Domingo, D.R.) 5-4 in the finals. Baker hit 12 homers in 26 swings, seven of which landed on Waveland Avenue behind the left-field stands and an eighth that struck the Toyota sign atop the bleachers in left-center.

Though scouts consider Baker a better prospect as a pitcher, it's hard to ignore the strength in his 6-4, 245-pound frame. More than just a masher, he has some feel for hitting to go with his right-handed pop and has made a name for himself in home run derbies this summer. He won the junior event at the big league All-Star Game and reached the finals at the Perfect Game All-American Classic at Petco Park last Sunday.

Baker, who will be a two-way player if he attends Texas Christian rather than turning pro, hopes he doesn't have to give up hitting anytime soon.

"I'm a pitcher, but getting to hit in this game is what I really wanted to do," Baker said. "I like to do both and I'm going to try to do both as long as I can."

Jim Callis is a reporter for and writes a blog, Callis' Corner. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.